Overall Health Report for the Sport of Baseball Heading into 2013

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Overall Health Report for the Sport of Baseball Heading into 2013
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With the Major League Baseball season set to open (Squeeee!!!) in just a couple weeks, by now fans should have a pretty good idea of how their favorite clubs are shaping up heading into 2013.

But how about the big picture? Are all you fans out there up to date on how Major League Baseball itself is looking heading into the new season? Do you have an idea about how healthy the sport is?

If you're looking to get filled in, you've come to the right place. There are plenty of facts about MLB that aren't publicly available (either at the moment or ever), but I've put together a report on the league's general health based on what's out there.

The particulars include attendance, revenue, payrolls and the latest on MLB's ongoing war against performance-enhancing drugs, and the narrative goes a little something like this...

 

Attendance Report

In the immortal words of Professor Farnsworth: Good news, everyone!

After the regular season ended, Major League Baseball announced that its 30 clubs had drawn 74,859,268 fans in 2012. That was the league's highest attendance total since 2008 and the fifth-largest in its history.

One of the most helpful factors was the addition of Marlins Park onto the baseball landscape. Yes, it's a boondoggle of epic proportions. And yes, The Miami Herald reported that attendance numbers came in well under the club's projections. All the same, Baseball-Reference.com shows that the Marlins benefited from the largest average attendance spike in baseball, going from under 19,000 fans per game to over 27,000 fans per game.

Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Baseball made a huge comeback in Baltimore in 2012.

Elsewhere, the rise of the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles to relevance helped increase attendance at Nationals Park and Orioles Park at Camden Yards. Los Angeles Dodgers and Detroit Tigers fans also came out in greater numbers, presumably thanks to Magic Johnson and company brushing aside Frank McCourt's influence in L.A. and Prince Fielder landing in Detroit.

It also helped that fans weren't being forced to pay more for tickets in 2012 than they were in 2011. Team Marketing Report's Fan Cost Index for baseball in 2011 showed that an average ticket was going for $26.91. In 2012, the average ticket was going for just a little more at $26.98.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig noticed that something was going on with attendance early on in the season, and he could barely contain his excitement.

"This is breathtaking,'' Selig told USA Today. "We are on a remarkable pace. This sport has never been so popular, and some people don't seem to understand that, but it's manifest in the attendance figures.''

The big question: Will the attendance figures rise again in 2013?

The best anyone can say is maybe. Attendance is doing well, but Maury Brown of BizofBaseball.com pointed out on Baseball Prospectus that attendance isn't where it was during baseball's "golden era" of attendance between 2004 and 2008. Realistically, attendance is holding steady more than rising.

Going forward, there are reasons to believe attendance could decline in 2013. The attendance spike that the Marlins enjoyed last year is not going to repeat itself for reasons that should be obvious. Beyond that, attendance could suffer if the league's pennant races aren't as heated as they were last year, when the addition of an extra wild-card berth in each league ended up having the desired effect.

Nonetheless, Selig is right about the sport being popular. That's evident even now, as MLB reported earlier this week that attendance for the first round of the World Baseball Classic was very strong. That sounds too good to be true considering all the empty seats that could be seen at some games, but some of the games have certainly drawn well enough to make a difference.

So as far as the attendance numbers are concerned, baseball is doing just fine both domestically and internationally. You can throw a rock anywhere in the world, and odds are you'll hit a baseball fan.

Don't actually do that, of course. I'm just sayin'.

 

Revenue Report

With attendance numbers staying strong thanks in part to increased fanfare from the hot pennant races, you won't be surprised to hear that Major League Baseball made a lot of money last year.

Like, a lot as in a lot.

Brown reported on BizofBaseball.com in December that MLB revenues reached $7.5 billion in 2012. Yes, that's billion with a B.

To put this in perspective, MLB's revenues less than two decades ago in 1995 were a pedestrian $1.4 billion. And if you're sitting there thinking that the league can't go any higher than this, well, you're wrong.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
New camera operators too.

MLB recently inked a couple national TV deals with ESPN and with FOX and Turner Sports that Brown says are going to be worth $788.3 million. That's per year, starting in 2014.

Thanks largely to these, Brown estimated that the league's revenues could climb to $8.4 billion by 2014 or perhaps as high as $9 billion thanks to the Dodgers' new TV deal with Time Warner.

That, for the record, was revealed in January to be worth $7 billion over 25 years. For the time being, Kristi Dosh of ESPN.com wrote last week that the Dodgers still haven't submitted their deal to MLB for approval due to revenue-sharing concerns. There could be as much as $1 billion to go around based on the league's revenue-sharing plan, but the Dodgers' situation has some red tape on it that could allow them to avoid sharing that money.

It's not going to sit well with other teams if the Dodgers are able to horde the vast majority of their $7 billion TV deal, but the league as a whole will still be fine from a dollars-and-cents perspective. Based on what Brown had to say, it sounds like there's not much, if anything, that can stop the league from crossing the $8 billion threshold for revenue and continue on toward $9 billion.

Will MLB ever catch the National Football League? Probably not, no. According to CNN.com, the NFL's revenue touched $9.5 billion in 2012.

But don't be distraught. Major League Baseball may not be as rich as the NFL, but it's better off than the NCAA, NASCAR, the NBA and the English Premier League in terms of revenue. That's worth a little something.

 

Payrolls Report

It's still too early to have a definitive idea of how much teams are going to be spending on payroll in 2013. But thanks to Cot's Baseball Contracts, we can get an idea of where teams are with their payrolls now compared to where they were on Opening Day in 2012.

And that is...

Team 2012 OD Payroll 2013 Commitments Trend
Arizona $75,417,833 $82,665,500 Up
Atlanta $93,529,667 $82,765,583 Down
Baltimore $84,102,333 $87,205,333 Even
Boston $175,249,119 $154,415,500 Down
Chicago Cubs $109,316,000 $103,118,810 Down
Chicago White Sox $97,669,500 $113,920,000 Up
Cincinnati $87,826,167 $98,800,000 Up
Cleveland $65,430,300 $72,856,833 Up
Colorado $81,135,571 $68,488,571 Down
Detroit $133,475,000 $145,425,000 Up
Houston $60,799,000 $14,575,000 Down
Kansas City $64,001,725 $78,516,600 Up
Los Angeles Angels $151,381,000 $145,199,250 Down
Los Angeles Dodgers $105,419,833 $213,014,286 Up
Miami $101,628,000 $38,837,000 Down
Milwaukee $98,150,833 $71,028,333 Down
Minnesota $100,435,000 $77,362,500 Down
New York Mets $94,508,822 $83,175,000 Down
New York Yankees $209,792,900 $207,685,000 Even
Oakland $52,873,000 $55,025,000 Even
Philadelphia $172,093,902 $154,185,714 Down
Pittsburgh $51,932,333 $56,650,000 Even
San Diego $55,621,900 $60,350,000 Even
San Francisco  $131,355,298 $135,775,000 Even
Seattle $84,928,100 $76,019,643 Down
St. Louis $111,858,500 $111,150,000 Even
Tampa Bay $63,627,200 $57,480,975 Down
Texas $120,836,000 $121,364,200 Even
Toronto $83,739,200 $113,775,000 Up
Washington $92,534,929 $111,983,929 Up

The count: 13 down trenders, nine up trenders and eight even trenders

There's little reason to feel slighted at some of the down trenders in the league heading into 2013. Rich clubs like the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies can be forgiven for making big cuts after underachieving with bloated payrolls in 2012. And even after cutting payroll, they're still going to be among baseball's highest-spending teams in 2013.

Other down trenders like the Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets are clearly in rebuilding modes, which are best enjoyed on the cheap. Now that Mets owner Fred Wilpon is saying (via ESPNNewYork.com) the club's financial woes are over, the only one of these clubs that's really worth worrying about is the Marlins.

Everyone's ticked off at the Marlins, specifically team owner Jeffrey Loria, after putting together a $100 million payroll only to gut it in a matter of months. Among those ticked off is the MLB Players Association, which Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald reported in January was planning on taking it up with Selig if the Marlins didn't spend more money. No doubt many fans feel the same way.

 

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Public Enemy No. 1 in Miami. And probably everywhere else too.

Alas, both the MLBPA and the fans are probably going to have to wait a while to see the Marlins spend again. The South Florida Sun Sentinel says that the club's TV deal is good for less than $20 million per year, a laughable amount in this day and age. The Marlins aren't going to spend again until they get a new deal, and they may not get back to where they were on Opening Day last year until they see some steadiness in their attendance.

Meanwhile, the Marlins' new ballpark is going to cost Florida taxpayers $2 billion in the long run, according to the Sun Sentinel. To put it lightly, the entire situation with the Marlins is a mess. I only say that because I can't say cluster[bleep].

Among the up-trending teams, the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays stand out as two of the more unusual suspects, and both are surrounded by special circumstances.

The Indians are where they are largely thanks to their signings of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, which were made possible in part by a new TV deal that Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer says is worth $40 million in 2013.

The Blue Jays added a ton of money to their books by trading for Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and R.A. Dickey over the winter, with the idea clearly being to go for it all in 2013. They may also be trying to mess with the Yankees' desire to benefit from the CBA's revenue sharing refund program, which Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com wrote was designed to motivate big-market clubs like the Blue Jays to increase their revenues. The Blue Jays seem intent on doing that by winning.

All in all, the commitments for the 2013 season listed in the above table come very close to adding up to $3 billion. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports hinted back in January that MLB payrolls could exceed the $3 billion threshold for the first time this season, and it looks like that could very well happen.

Makes sense. The league is making more money than ever before. It follows that teams would be spending more money than ever before.

 

PED Report

There's never a dull moment in MLB's ongoing struggle to rid the league of PEDs. Controversy found the league when notables like Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon and Yasmani Grandal got themselves suspended for testosterone in 2012, and things haven't gotten much brighter in the new year.

In January, the Miami New Times dropped a bombshell of a report linking New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and other star players to a now-shuttered Florida anti-aging clinic called Biogenesis. A-Rod and others are alleged to have received PEDs from a "biochemist" named Anthony Bosch.

In the following weeks, Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun found his way into the controversy as well, starting with a report from Passan and Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports. T.J. Quinn and Mike Fish of ESPN.com produced another reported that strengthened Braun's ties to Biogenesis.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
If A-Rod has been using PEDs recently, they certainly haven't been helping.

Exactly where things go from here is anyone's guess. MLB is investigating and could end up punishing A-Rod, Braun and others linked to PEDs through Biogenesis, but the league is likely on its own in terms of coming up with evidence damning enough to pursue suspensions.

Michael S. Schmidt of The New York Times reported in January that the federal government isn't going to lend baseball a hand, and the New Times announced this week that it will not be handing over the records that served as the basis for its initial report.

In doing so, the New Times did reveal that the Florida Department of Health has begun its own investigation into Bosch, which Passan thinks could aid MLB's pursuit of vengeance. The government, after all, has subpoena power, which is something that baseball wishes it had.

But I'm with Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk on this one. The government is going after Bosch, not the players named in the documents, and recent history can vouch that government cases against ballplayers tend to be a waste of time and money.

While baseball may be out of luck where Biogenesis is concerned, the league can rest easy knowing that it's going to be harder for more cheaters to escape punishment in 2013. The league announced in January that it's going to be doing in-season blood tests for HGH this year, and the league will also be using baseline testosterone readings to make it easier to catch players using synthetic testosterone.

The new testing procedure for HGH is largely a PR move, but BALCO founder Victor Conte told USA Today that the league still doesn't have testosterone figured out. Nonetheless, stricter testing only serves to further establish MLB's PED protocols as the toughest in American sports.

And these protocols may get even tougher in the future. Selig said earlier this month, via ESPNDallas.com, that he's in favor of "stiffer penalties" for those caught using PEDs, and there's some sympathy for the idea on the other side of the fence as well. According to Paul White of USA Today, several players are on board with the idea of making the penalties even tougher.

"It's become a tiresome topic," said veteran infielder Mark DeRosa. "If guys are cheating the game, we want them caught and we want them subject to the harshest penalties they can be subject to. That's where we're at."

According to a report from Rosenthal, one idea is to implement a two-tiered penalty system that would punish intentional PED violators more harshly than unintentional violators. The league isn't crazy about the idea, however, as it feels it would be impractical to try and separate intentional violators from accidental violators, which is very much true.

Wherever this road goes, since the commissioner and the players both want tougher penalties, there's no reason to think that tougher penalties won't arrive in the near future.

 

In Short...

In a nutshell, all you really need to know is this: Baseball is doing pretty well these days.

People are coming out to the ballpark, which is always good. Money is being made, which is also always good. Teams are spending the money that's being made, which is...well, you get the point.

The only area where the sport is still on shaky ground is the PED front. A recent SportsNation poll fingered MLB as the most PED-riddled league in America, and the Biogenesis mess isn't going to clean up that perception. It's a bogus perception, but it is what it is until it's not.

To that end, MLB is doing its best. The league got a wake-up call in 2012 with all the suspensions, and it reflects well on the league that it did what it had to by immediately tightening up the testing procedures. If it makes the penalties tougher next, it sounds like that would be just fine for pretty much everyone.

If you're looking for a bright side to the ongoing PED mess, well, you just read about it. The sport is still fighting PEDs and is still perceived to have a major problem, but butts are in the seats and the cash is flowing like wine.

These are good times.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter. 

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